Mindshift: Become Decisive

This article is part of the fascinating series, Mindshift.

It’s a shame.

Poor decision-making skills are an epidemic. Parents are supposed to teach their children (because they sure won’t learn it in school), but they often lack the skill themselves. This cycle continues and hoards of sheep are trained to let the world happen to them. Don’t let it be you. Read on.

Sorry, but decisiveness has never been more difficult. Consider this unique period in time…

Rampant, exponential growth in technology has given us more options on more levels than ever before in history. It sounds great, but it makes decision-making very difficult. Having too many options is a well-documented cause of choice paralysis.

In 400 B.C., you could talk to Randy or maybe engrave a note on a rock and throw it at him. Today, not only can you see Randy in person, but you can call, text, fax, email, snail mail, tweet, skype, e-spank, frazzle, pinch, and facebook poke him. I may have made up a few of those, but you can’t prove anything. Ok, you can prove it, but I will always deny it.

Indecisive Recipe (not final)

2 cups abundance of choices (may substitute with anything)

1 chopped bunch of sub-par decision-making skills

Mix in a large bowl until fully passive. Serve chilled…or you know, whatever other way might also work.

The Two Types of Decisions

Let’s go deeper. How are decisions made?

Decisions are made in two ways – deductively or inductively. I came up with these two by thinking deeply, of course. You won’t find this in a textbook, but you’ll see that it makes sense.

Deductive decisions are easier because to deduce something is to start with a known quantity and work down to a solution (large to small). These are instances where we have the information we need to choose by comparing our available options. For example, when choosing what shoes to wear to work, we have a finite number of shoes in the closet to choose from.

Inductive decisions are decidedly less comfortable to make because of their increased uncertainty. While deductive decisions are made with limited options, inductive decisions are made from a virtually unlimited number of options. This is why it takes longer to buy a pair of shoes than to pick them out to wear later. The more options there are, the greater amount of uncertainty in decisions. An easy example of an inductive decision (shown below) is what to do with your free time – you can do anything.

Decisions decisions

There are people who struggle with just one type or both. I personally find inductive decisions difficult to make because I am not likely making the very best decision possible (with essentially infinite options, the odds of picking the perfect one are…not good!). More examples are choosing a home, career, spouse, etc.

Still, some people actually struggle mightily with deductive, sometimes trivial decisions. They are the ones who take forever to order. They would enjoy the salmon and the steak, so they’ll struggle to find a differentiating edge for either one when it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, there is no wrong choice (though in this case, salmon is obviously the correct choice).

If you struggle with decisions at any level, a mindshift is in order!


The big questions:

  1. What incorrect thoughts support and encourage passive living?
  2. How can we shift our minds to become decision-making factories?

People will always act in their (perceived) best interest. Indecisive people believe that passivity is the best way of life for them. Knowing this means there is a flawed way of thinking that we can find and address, so let’s follow the progression of thought to find the common mistake.

The indecisive mind….

  • Sees decisions as impossible to make with perfect accuracy because of the unknown variables… correct.
  • Perceives decisions as inherently risky… correct, but unavoidable (key).
  • Therefore believes (subconsciously) that it is best not to risk making the wrong choice… incorrect.

The tendency to avoid uncertainty is at the core of the problem. To the passive individual, it is better not to decide than to risk choosing the wrong thing. It sure seems safer at times, and feeling safe is not without value. But is it actually safer? No, in fact it is much riskier because it is impossible to avoid a decision. Passivity means relinquishing control of your life (an antithesis of safety).

Let me give you some examples of how passive behavior makes decisions for you…

  • Go to the movie? (passive) … the answer is no by default, or yes if you allow the group to convince you.
  • Become an astronaut? (passive)… the answer is 100% no, because a yes requires decisive action.
  • Go to college? (passive)… the answer to this important question would likely defer to your external environment (parental and peer pressure, popular opinion)
  • You like a girl? (passive)… You’ll only meet (and date) her if she pursues you or by chance your paths cross. Yeah, good luck with that. She’ll be over there with that assertive guy if you need to ask her something.

Being indecisive isn’t “wrong”, it’s just much worse than being decisive. You might enjoy the movie, rather be a dentist than an astronaut, enjoy college, and luckily bump into the girl (and help her pick up her books you jerk) through passive decisions; unfortunately, ignoring your own preferences makes it far more unlikely that you’ll enjoy life. Passive behavior indicates a fear of making the wrong choice, but not making a choice is much riskier and uncertain!

To truly live is to be decisive.

When You Decide, You Learn

Another perk of being decisive is in making the wrong choice, you’re going to learn a lot from it. In my early investing days, I made some very good stock (and option) picks, but I sold out after “only” doubling my money. The stocks continued to rise to the point where I would have made several times the amount of money had I held on. Believe me, I learned from this! My most recent stock option is up 350% now and I’m still holding even though I was tempted to sell at 200% gain.

Buying and selling stocks isn’t as simple as that example, but the point is that I have learned to make better decisions by initially making the wrong decisions and it has paid off. It’s a win-win scenario like succeeding or failing.

There are multiple ways to become more decisive, so instead of claiming one holy grail, I’ll give a few possibilities and suggest my favorite(s). Ultimately, you can decide which ones you’ll try!

1. Recalibrate the mind – “enlightening” the mind to the benefits of decisiveness is a one way to get the ball rolling towards becoming decisive. Reading insightful blogs (cough…sneeze…) is one way to do this. In order for it to work, being decisive needs to become a value of yours. This post attempts to persuade your mind into choosing decisiveness, but it is only the starting point – you must cement yourself as a decisive person with decisive action. No amount of books can change you – only you can!

2. Force the change – It sounds barbaric because it is. This works for people like me who overthink often. Instead of letting your mind analyze itself out of doing something you know you want to do, shut it off and jump off the bridge (no!), ask the girl out, or in this case, make some decisions and don’t look back.

It is great to do this if you struggle with trivial decisions, because it really doesn’t matter whether you order the salmon or the steak if you’ll enjoy both (thus, no negative sting of making a wrong choice). Seeing yourself succeed with a new lifestyle is valuable encouragement. It isn’t about the salmon, it’s about knowing what you want in life and purposely going for it.

3. Force the situation – This is an advanced version of forcing the change. Honestly, I think it is more effective, but not many people are willing to do it. To use this technique, purposefully put yourself in situations where a decision will HAVE to be made. Examples include setting up interviews, buying two tickets to an event without having a date yet, or informing your landlord that you are moving out/terminating your lease (forces you to decide on a new place to live). All of these situations somewhat force your hand at being assertive and making a confident decision.

The more extreme it is, the more exciting it is! Do it!

4. Set personal deadlines – There is nothing like a good ol’ deadline to get our backsides moving. With this strategy, you simply impose on yourself a time limit to make specific decisions. If you sense you’re procrastinating, set a deadline and you’ll be much more likely to get it done.

I like all of these options and I plan to incorporate them personally over the coming lifetime I have to live. Decisiveness gets better with practice. Keep in mind, even adept decision-makers will give pause to difficult or complex situations (and that’s just fine).

One last piece of advice is to hone the skill itself. The decision-making skill is a combination of two other skills – analytical ability to assess options and courage to withstand uncertainty. If you can improve upon those skills, they should serve you to make better and more confident decisions. And always remember…

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

~ William James (1842 – 1910), American Psychologist and Philosopher

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